Tried and True: Designing Handwoven Towels

How do you come up with a design for standout hand towels? Sometimes it’s nice to start with someone else’s ideas. There is a gorgeous wool throw, designed by Anna Svenstedt, in Favorite Scandinavian Projects To Weave: 45 Stylish Designs for the Modern Home, by Tina Ignell. This Colorful Throw—Reverse Twill makes a perfect template for designing eye-catching hand towels.

New handwoven towels.
Warp chains with seven colors of 22/2 cottolin for standout hand towels.

Decisions:

  • Colors – a set of seven colors, to be used in warp and weft
  • Fiber – 22/2 cottolin for warp and weft
  • Reed and sett50/10 metric reed, 10 ends per centimeter (~ 12-dent reed, 24 ends per inch)
  • Finished size of towel – 39.5 cm x 63 cm (15.5” x 24.5”)
  • Number of towels – 2 pairs of towels = 4 total
  • Spacing of warp stripes – add two more narrow stripes at each selvedge to balance the pattern

These decisions enable me to prepare a project plan, make calculations, and write a new weaving draft.

New handwoven towels.
Testing, testing…

When the loom is dressed, the design process continues as I begin weaving a sample section. This is where I decide what weft colors to use, the spacing of weft stripes, and specific treadling patterns. I add these notes to my project sheet, which I keep at the loom as my weaving roadmap.

Measuring for weft stripes.
I place my measuring twill tape along the reed to mark the spacing of the warp stripes. I will use that same spacing for weft stripes to make plaid towels.
Testing colors and patterns.
Sample weaving to try out colors, stripe spacing, and treadling patterns. And, simply to practice this broken reverse twill treadling, which requires concentration.
First towel starts after the red cutting line.
First towel starts after the red cutting line.

These hand towels are a preview. If they turn out as hoped, I may have to make some bath towels to match.

May your designs stand out.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

14 Comments

  • Charlotte says:

    You will love the cottolin for your bath towels. I’ve used cottolin for warp and linen for weft. That works well. But, the balance of cottolin for warp and weft makes a wonderful bath towel.

    Your hand towels will be a treasure!!! The colors are smashing!!!!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Charlotte, I like the idea of using linen for weft with a cottolin warp. You would get the softness of the cotton in the cottolin and the extra absorbency of the linen. I may consider that for the bath towels. What size linen do you recommend for that?

      I’m already thinking these may be my favorite hand towels.

      Thanks!
      Karen

      • Charlotte says:

        I am sitting here at home, sipping my first cup of coffee. Hence, I don’t have my notes available to answer your question. But, I usually try a weft and weave a few rows of blocks to make certain I can square the block. If the yarn is too thick for the weft, but I’m crazy about it…I’ll weave 1/2 blocks for the cloth. I’ll treadle 1, 2, 3 and change to the next pattern row: 4, 5, 6. Does this make sense?

  • Anonymous says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Gorgeous colors. Eight shaft?

  • Joanna says:

    I wish you more joy with your plaid than I have had with mine. It’s been stalled on the loom forever. What was your inspiration for the color choices? I keep looking for echoes of your beautiful Texas Hill Country.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joanna, I know it is disappointing when something on the loom is less than what we’d hoped. What if you just finished your towels off with a single weft color, having only the warp stripes? Would that work? At least you could get them off the loom sooner.

      I have a set palette of colors for our home in Sherwin-Williams paint chips. I spread those paint chips out when deciding on thread colors for weaving that will be used in our home. I have yarn samples of all the main yarn/thread that I use (Yarn in a Jar from Vavstuga is fantastic for this) so I can spread the yarn colors out, too, and find pleasing arrangements.

      I hope you find a way to put joy back into your towel weaving.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Kevin says:

    Really beautiful! I love the colors and the pattern!

  • Barb says:

    Love the idea of using the warp stripe pattern as the spacing for the weft colors! It is an idea i will sample on the striped cotton towels on my loom. Thanks so much for sharing, I always find inspiration in your weaving journey.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barb, Copying the warp stripe spacing is an easy way to bring a cohesive look to the towels. Good for you to sample the idea for yourself.

      I sure appreciate your kind encouragement.
      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Nannette says:

    Beautiful weave.Love your color choices.

    Thank you. Much needed as I sit next to totes being filled with decades of craft supplies to be moved to the retirement home and the empty boxes to be filled for the anticipated rummage sale. The Reed Pleater will have to be sold. Can I let go of the silk screening supplies from my college days?

    In the next 9 months there is much to do to make the transition.

    Between you and Curmugeom66 my creative soul is renewed. (His last VLOG was snow blowing his yard just south of Green Bay.) That said, he has posted quite a few VLOGs using cottalin.

    Thank you for keeping me in the loop with your wonderful projects..

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nannette, I understand. I, too, had to let go of many prized saved things when we prepared for our retirement move. Happily, I have no regret of letting go, and I have not missed any of it. The move became my chance to start fresh. That doesn’t make your challenge any easier, but I hope you will be encouraged. You have a bright future to look forward to.

      All the best,
      Karen

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Siblings Tapestry and Process Video

Drum roll please… And now, I present to you: Siblings

Siblings Tapestry by Karen Isenhower

The Siblings tapestry is a woven expression of personal meaning. The tapestry tells a story of a singular incident, almost hidden in the excitement of the occasion. Lucia grasps Ari’s wrist as they approach Sugar Pie, the bunny. In that moment I see something worth keeping—precious sibling love.

Please enjoy this short video of the process of weaving and finishing the Siblings tapestry.

May you know the security of true love.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

32 Comments

  • Susie Redman says:

    Good morning- I did enjoy your video and seeing the finished piece. Ive only ever used a small frame for tapestry weaving but I think that Ill try using my floor loom. Thank you for the inspiration

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susie, I enjoy using a small tapestry frame, too. And using a big loom like this for tapestry is energizing, because your whole body is in motion as you weave. I hope you try it.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Wanda Bennett says:

    This is beautiful! Great job!

  • Susan San Martin says:

    It is in inspiring to watch your tapestry project from start to finish. You make it look easy, but I’m not fooled! I’m awe-struck!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susan, On one hand, I would say it is not easy; and on the other hand, I would say that once I get going I’m just following the cartoon and I feel like I’m coloring in a coloring book, which is not hard.

      Thank you for your compliment!

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Bethany says:

    As a beginning tapestry explorer, I am stunned and so very much in awe of the talent, time and the raw beauty of sentiment that went into this glorious piece of fine art! Congratulations and I am delighted that the artwork is hanging, finished in your home studio. Be very proud and may this be a treasure for generatuions. God bless!
    Bethany in Kingston, ON

  • Geri Rickard says:

    Well, that was certainly worth the wait! It’s marvelous!

  • Kevin Baumann says:

    Such talent! You’ve created a beautiful work of art! Thank you for sharing with us!

  • Nannette says:

    Beautiful. Mary Cassat and Georgia O’Keefe in a textile format.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Nannette

  • Betsy says:

    Just beautiful, Karen!

  • Linda Adamson says:

    This is lovely in design, workmanship and message. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joanna says:

    Oh wow! Just . . . Wow!

  • D'Anne says:

    A special memory made by your hands,Karen! It’s beautiful!

  • Marcia says:

    I recently had the privilege of seeing an exhibition by Helena Hernmark who has a world reputation for her amazing and huge tapestries, many woven for corporate offices on commission. She moved part of her studio to a local art museum and was “Artist in Residence” for several months. From a distance, her pieces are photographic and she weaves on large Glimakra looms (Helena is a transplanted Swede). Do look her up…she is inspiring. In December I got to visit her real studio in my town when she received my copy of Vav Magazine by mistake, probably the highlight of my year!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Marcia, I have a book of Helena Hernmarck’s work, and I study the photos in it for ideas and inspiration. I knew about her artist in residence at the Connecticut museum, but I didn’t find a way to make it there. I’m so glad you had the opportunity! How fortunate for you that your magazine was sent to the wrong address. Oh, visiting her studio must have been a real treat!

      I’m grateful that you thought of letting me know about Helena Hernmarck!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Aleta says:

    I was taught at my Grandmother’s side how to embroider and I developed a love
    of making pictures with needle and thread. I can’t draw a straight line or make a round circle with a pencil, but I love the cross stitch and how a picture slowly takes shape with the slow transition of color.
    I visited a museum recently with some fun loving friends and we saw some lovely pieces of hand made art, but there was nothing in that museum that spoke to me of a labor of love and passion like the “Siblings” tapestry.
    Last year I started to teach myself how to weave and twine, with the help of new friends in the guild I joined, but WOW. I see I have a very long way to go and learn. Thank you for sharing your prize with us. God Bless You.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Aleta, I admire your ability to create pictures with needle and thread. That ability will carry over as you explore tapestry weaving. Get all the books and resources you can to learn and practice the basics of tapestry weaving. And then, maybe you will be fortunate like I was to take a workshop or class from Joanne Hall, or another world-class tapestry weaver. I, too, have a very long way to go and learn. But that’s the joy of this weaving world—there’s always more to learn.

      God bless you and lead you, too,
      Karen

  • lanora says:

    Karen, thank you for inspiring us and
    letting us be a part of your adventure… It turned out beautiful! Tapestry is now on my list of ‘To Do’ items for sure!

  • louise says:

    Amazing piece! I love it! The texture is wonderful in it..It looks like you skipped places in order to achieve the texture. Could you coment on that?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Louise, Thank you for such kind words! This is threaded in rosepath, a particular four-shaft twill threading. I use a rosepath treadling pattern in between plain weave rows. So, part of the texture you see comes about naturally through the floats (skipped threads) in the rosepath.
      Thanks for asking about it.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Linda Cornell says:

    So beautiful and precious!

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Tapestry Promise

You will see the front of the Siblings tapestry. I promise. When I cut a tapestry from the loom the weaving is finished. But the tapestry is not complete until the finishing is finished. And I have substantial handwork yet to do before this tapestry is ready for display.

Cutting off a new tapestry!
Cutting off the tapestry.
Back of the Siblings tapestry.
View of the back of the tapestry. Non-distinct imagery.

I am securing the ends in a woven edging. Then, I will trim weft tails, stitch things down around the perimeter, and put on a backing. Additional hand-stitching work will stabilize the whole piece. When you see the Siblings tapestry again, you will see it in full view on the wall right behind my loom.

Woven edging on the new tapestry.
Warp ends are woven together along the edge, and will end with a short braid.
Tapestry just off the loom. Finishing process.
Edge will be folded under and stitched down before the backing is added.

Hope is built on promise. Do not forget God’s promise. Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. And, Jesus expresses the promise to His followers, I will be with you always. We see the tapestry of life from the human side, the unfinished side. Hope, paired with patience, takes us through the uncertain future. We have assurance of the Lord’s grace, His meticulous handwork, bringing His work to completion. In the meantime, we give Him our burdens and He gives us rest. As promised.

May your hope be strong.

With you,
Karen

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Waiting to Cut Off the Tapestry

I desperately want to unroll this tapestry so we can see the whole thing. The tapestry and its linen header are finished. But it’s not quite time to cut it off. First, I am weaving the rest of this beautiful linen warp. Not another tapestry, just a lacey rosepath weave using a tomato orange 6/1 tow linen weft.

One more row of weft for this Siblings tapestry!
With one more row of wool weft this tapestry is completed. Ten picks of linen in a plain-weave header follow. After that, a few rows of wool weft (leftover butterflies) are woven to secure the weft.
Linen on linen, with linen hemstitching.
Hemstitching secures the weft for this lacey weave.

It won’t take much time to weave this off, especially compared to the slower process of weaving the tapestry. Hemstitching, which does take time, will help keep this loosely-woven piece from unraveling when the warp is finally cut off. Soon enough, we will enjoy the full view of the completed Siblings tapestry.

View of the messy underside of the tapestry.
View of the messy underside of the tapestry.
Only a short distance remains on this beautiful linen warp.
Only a short distance remains on this beautiful linen warp.

Time. We all have it. And yet none of us knows how much of it we have. How many days have we been given? We don’t know. Time is temporary. Imagine a place where time isn’t measured. That’s heaven. Our short time here is but a pilgrimage to another destination. Our trust in Jesus opens heaven’s doors. In the meantime, the Grand Weaver’s warp will be woven, and not wasted, to the very end.

May you complete your pilgrimage in the time you’ve been given.

Blessings on your journey,
Karen

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Tried and True: Use a Boat Shuttle for Rag Weaving

Wind very narrow fabric strips on quills and put them in a boat shuttle. It’s efficient. It’s faster to wind a quill than to load fabric on a ski shuttle. Plus, I like the advantage of sending a boat shuttle across rather than a ski shuttle. This rag rug on the drawloom has fabric strips that are only one centimeter (~3/8”) wide, instead of the usual two-centimeter-wide (~3/4”) strips for an ordinary rag rug. Grab your boat shuttle and pay attention to a few simple tips. Your very narrow fabric strips will be woven up in no time.

Tips for Using a Boat Shuttle to Weave Very Narrow Fabric Strips

  • Use fabric that has minimal fraying at the edges. Trim off any long threads. Loose dangling threads that are long enough to wind themselves on the quill will make you wish you had used a ski shuttle.
  • Wind the fabric with the right side down. Then, when the quill unrolls, the right side will be facing up.
Winding quills with narrow fabric strips. Rag rug on the drawloom.
Swedish bobbin winder is clamped to the side of the loom. A five-yard fabric strip is wound onto a quill. The right side of the fabric is against the quill.
  • Handle the wound quill as little as possible to prevent fraying the fabric edges. Simply wrap the tail end of the fabric strip around the filled quill. Do not wrap the end into a slip knot around the quill because the fabric will fray as you release the knot.
Winding narrow fabric strips on quills for drawloom rag rug.
One long fabric strip per quill. Fabric is cut 1 cm (3/8″) wide.
Fabric-wound quills ready for weaving drawloom rag rug.
One fabric-filled quill covers a little more than one unit of weaving (4 picks). I keep a dozen filled quills in the basket on my loom bench so I can keep weaving as long as possible.
  • Unwind enough weft for the pick before you throw the shuttle. Pull the weft out straight from the quill. When a quill unwinds in the shed, the weft comes off at an angle. And as such, if there are any loose threads at the edges of the fabric strips, the threads will wind themselves on the quill and bind it up. And you will wish you had used a ski shuttle.
Folke Samuelson Damask Shuttle - drawloom rag rug!
Folke Samuelson Damask Shuttle has a low profile, well-suited for the smaller sheds of the drawloom. Fabric is unrolled from the shuttle prior to the next pick.
Design is "Trasmatta Snöfall" ("Snowfall Rag Rug") by Kerstin Åsling-Sundberg, from Damast, Horlags AB Vavhasten
Drawloom rag rug is well underway. Single unit drawcords are pulled and held in place on the pegs above the beater. Design is Trasmatta Snöfall (Snowfall Rag Rug) by Kerstin Åsling-Sundberg, from Damast, edited by Lillemor Johansson.

May your hands enjoy their work.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

10 Comments

  • Geri Rickard says:

    Oh thus is so lovely! I cant wait to see it! Thanks for all the tips! Its wuite an impressive piece!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Geri, This design is good for a single-unit beginner like me. Very simple. But I think the outcome will be quite impressive, as you say.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • ellen b santana says:

    beautiful. does the weft not shed threads as it is walked on? happy new year.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ellen, As with any rag rug, yes, the weft will shed threads as it is walked on. My main concern about keeping the fabric edges from fraying is so the fabric strips will roll off the quill unhampered.

      Happy New Year,
      Karen

  • Betsy says:

    Beautiful! Love that blue.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Betsy, The color is very pleasant, with subtle variations. I am also going to introduce some more shades along the length of the rug.

      Thanks!
      Karen

  • Ladella says:

    Very interesting even for a long time weaver. Excellent way! Kudos to you for sharing this information.

  • Nannette says:

    Good morning Karen,
    Beautiful.
    About 5 years ago I bought a tabby woven rag rug with the warp deliberately saw cut at a craft show. The result was/is a shaggy rug. the first few washings freed the loose ends. Now it has settled.

    Your post is on the other end of the spectrum of rag rug weaving. I love it.

    Thank you.

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